Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dragonfly (page 24)

The next poem in Dragonfly is yet another rock poem, this time featuring guitar god Jimi Hendrix. Again, 'nuff said.

"Are You Experienced?"

In the Church of Saint Jimi, purples and blues
played in the gold haze of the spotlight.
A glass butterfly slicing through

Spanish forests on ebony nights.
At Monterey, Jimi's hips
had thrust vermillion into white

hot flames. Strumming with lips,
fingers, tongue — Hendrix had spiraled
into our brains, fired the wicks

of our secret candles. We fed on his crystal
bones like vampires at some vile feast.
How could we have known how brittle

he really was? That the prince was just
a mirror? His flesh, only flesh?


        GIF by Joseph Solo, Hollywood, CA.
        Graphic artist at <>.
        Click on image to see full animation.

Page 24

Let's see . . . what can I tell you? Like the Santana poem, this is a sonnet. To be precise, a terza rima sonnet like each of the numbered sections in Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ode to the West Wind." Tetrameter instead of pentameter, however.

Many many years ago, in some online workshop, an anonymous workshopper tore into this poem, shredding it beyond belief and courtesy. One of the things that person said was that vampires don't eat the dead, technically. I'm using the word vampires rather than zombies or ghouls because it alliterates with vermillion and vile. It's also in loose consonance with the surrounding "f" words: flames, fired, fed, feast, flesh. Also, vampires just seem culturally cooler and more together than zombies and ghouls.

Besides, do we really know why or how we make such decisions when we write? Yes, we can rationalize a choice like I did above. But seriously, often there's a rightness that's just there, and it all clicks.

Oh, do click on Joseph Solo's Hendrix image above; this will take you to his Hendrix animation — it's pretty glorious — and then you can also see his other rock god animations. If you're looking for a graphic artist, give Mr. Solo a try.

As always, I'm very interested in getting some feedback or discussing anything with all y'all. Comment, okay? Thanks. Ingat.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Dragonfly (page 23)

The next poem in Dragonfly is another rock 'n' roll poem, featuring guitar god Carlos Santana. 'Nuff said.

Carlos Santana in Concert: Berkeley, 1983

The note you hold, pungent and sustaining, novas
into aquamarine. In the car, my cousin Pete was saying,
"What a time, the 60s! Patchouli, flowers, fine ladies
begging spare change, joints, acid, anything."

Now, with eyes turned in like collapsars, you avatar
our childhood, your fingers steeled in rigid abandon,
your leonine head laid back. Play that guitar!
Pete who strums a mean axe himself says, "Schon

and Van Halen — them boys are typewriters, machine
guns! Santana puts more soul in a single note."
Carlos, your lone note spatters from the Mission,
San Francisco's soul kitchen. Stir up your bitches'

brew, your black-magic stew on Latin fire.
Oye, Santana, al ritmo — bueno para gozar!

Page 23

I wonder if I ought to have an epigraph that says "after Philip Larkin" because the poem plays off Larkin's well-known poem "For Sidney Bechet." Larkin's opening line in that poem is "That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes." And later, Larkin writes, "Oh, play that thing!" When I was putting together I eventually decided against the epigraph because the borrowing seemed so obvious that anyone who knows Larkin's poem would immediately see the connection. I'd really like to hear what you think about this.

As with the previous poem ("After the Gig") I changed a semicolon in the title to a colon. As I said with the last poem, the semicolon just seems wrong to me now. What else? The word "60s" should have an apostrophe in front. Decided to leave that one alone. If this poem were to appear in a future "selected" or "collected" volume, I would probably then add that apostrophe.

The character Pete is my cousin Peter Padua. It occurs to me now that I should call him "Peter" in this poem because in our family "Pete" always referred to his dad. I had changed it in this poem to "Pete" for the sake of better rhythm in the lines. I put words into Peter's mouth here, specifically the first quotation. But Peter did say that "machine gun" part in reference to Neal Schon and Eddie Van Halen . . . stole that from ya, old buddy. Thanks for that great bit, cousin Peter!
To pay my cousin back, let me give him a plug. Here's a video of his band, Peter Padua and Friends, performing his song "Jammin' Free." They are playing next Thursday, May 24, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the Main Stage at the Sunset Market, Oceanside, California. If you live in or near Oceanside, go check out their music. I guarantee, you'll love it.
In terms of form and poetics, did you notice this is a Shakespearean sonnet? Slant rhymes and roughed-up meter. I'm particularly fond of the rhyme between "machine" and "Mission": gotta love that rich consonance.

Music references include the already mentioned ones to Schon and Van Halen. I also allude to Jim Morrison and Miles Davis. As well as to Santana's own discography: "black magic." The ending line in Spanish means "Listen, Santana, to the rhythm, good to enjoy." That's pretty literal. In a looser sense, something like beautiful/marvelous/splendid/superb to appreciate/relish/savor/treasure/dig. Any Spanish speakers out there who could help me sharpen that translation?

Copacetic, friends. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or anything else here (maybe whether it needs that epigraph attribution, say); please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.

The photo of Carlos Santana was taken by Flickr user Stoned59 in 1984
(from Wikipedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution
2.0 Generic license.)


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Scifaiku One

I was just involved in a facebook convo about disallowing fan fiction, romance, sci-fi, etc. in creative writing classes. I said, "I don't allow fan fiction, but SF and Fantasy and Detective (etc.) are fine as long as they are simultaneously 'literary' . . . I find this actually teaches them a lot about literary fiction per se."

Though this is beside the point. The discussion reminded me about this poem I wrote a while back that I've never been able to get published. So either it's not good (which may well be) or it could be running up against editorial prejudgements about "science fiction" vs. "literary" blah blah.


bright sun, black sky, stars
. . . galaxies glimmer like dust,
this at my feet

craters open out
jagged walls to space, empty
stadiums of stone

snowbanks of gray ash
flung from millions of meteors . . .
eternal winter

one person's shhh . . . shhh
the only sound for miles . . . miles:
my breath in my ears

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

These are haiku (traditional, 5-7-5, etc.) and in certain circles science-fiction haiku are called "scifaiku." I'm titling this post "Scifaiku One" because who knows, I might just start a series of scifaiku. Watch for "Scifaiku Two"! Can't wait until "Scifaiku 130." Just kidding. Well, maybe.

I wrote this poem while teaching a Beginning Poetry workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, maybe three years ago. We wrote haiku in class and for homework, and this was my contribution.

Okay, that's all for now. Comment below? I'd love to hear what you think. About this poem or about not allowing genre writing in classes or whatever. Or write a scifaiku in your comment! Ingat.

Left: Harrison H. Schmitt in space suit next to a huge boulder (Apollo 17). Right: John W. Young collecting samples from the lunar surface (Apollo 16); if you click on it to see a larger version, you'll see he's basically using a broom and dustpan. Both pictures from NASA, in public domain.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dragonfly (page 22)

The next poem in Dragonfly is also a transition poem. Yes, I said that the previous poem was a transition into poems dealing with childhood, esp. in San Francisco. And this one does. But this poem also leads us into another favorite subject of mine: rock 'n' roll. And it also touches on a favorite — well, maybe "favorite" is not quite the right word — an often-visited subject in my work: war. A "family subject" of sorts.

I made a small change from the original text in Dragonfly. The poem's title in the book had a semicolon after the word "gig" . . . that punctuation just feels wrong to me now, and so I've changed it here to a colon, the more conventional choice between title and subtitle. Also, there are other poems in the book that already use that title-colon-subtitle format.

After the Gig: Saint Agnes Teen Club Dance

Crisp air mainlines in the brain, and I love
the guitar case's heft in my hand, the strings
of my SG muted now by velvet. "No groupies?"
says Ron, as he did every Saturday night,
and we smile. The joke fitting like old hi-tops.

I feel again the sweet exhaustion, fingertips
sore and ridged by taut steel, a hoarse
voice till Sunday night. In the cold air,
as always, I first notice the amps ringing
deep in my head, whirlpooling down where the band

is always playing "Soul Sacrifice."
Ron's wicked grin as he shuttles the conga
beat across the skitter of Terry's sticks.
Steve's hands, freckled, walking
a Vox bass. And above their safety net,

Jay and I trapeze: his wheeling solos
on the Hammond B-3, me on my SG Custom.
The hall always filled with a fog of sound,
rock and roll mixed with the sweat of dancers, the pale
ennui of wallflowers loving the edges.

In the night air, too keyed up for sleep,
we pull into a Doggie Diner for a quick
cup of coffee. No one says a word.
There's graduation and the draft, the world like
a Leslie speaker's double horns whirling, whirling.

Page 22

I was Yusef Komunyakaa's MFA student when I wrote this poem, and the phrasing in opening line shows some of that influence, I think. Here I'm using a stanza mode I still employ: groups with the same number of lines throughout (here, five) without deference to meaning, as in verse paragraphs. This method can cause strong stanza enjambment as in, for example, the break between stanzas two and three above.

The names of the band members in the poem are actual . . . though I've fiddled with the gear: I played an SG Junior, not a Custom, and Jay had a Farfisa organ or maybe a Fender. (For some reason, a brand name starting with F sticks in my memory with Jay.)

Steve, however, actually had a Vox bass, the short-scale Bassmaster; I remember Steve always had a tough time finding strings because long-scale strings were too thick at the short-scale length to feed through the tuner posts. In the photo below, you can see Steve on the right with his Vox bass (this is, however, of a different band we were in together, three years earlier); click on it to see a larger version.

The Leslie speaker mentioned above is often associated with Hammond organs; it used two spinning speaker horns for a unique doppler effect.
Things specific to San Francisco in the poem are teen clubs (youth groups in Catholic parishes) and the Doggie Diner restaurant. This was a San Francisco-only fast-food franchise, now gone. A nostalgic memory for many native San Franciscans. The picture above is of the Doggie Diner at Mission and 18th. The one our band always went to was at Geary and Arguello. The poem's setting in time coincides with the Vietnam war, and male high school seniors at that time were all very worried about being drafted into the Army. And of course the poem concerns itself more largely with oncoming adulthood. Interesting in this context is that our band in the poem was named Change of Heart. Hmm.

Okay, that's all for today. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or anything else; please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.

The first image above is a family photo taken by my dad. More info on it is available in the blog post dated 3 September 2011, which also talks about the Doggie Diner. The second image above is borrowed from the website Doggie, and the photographer is Chandler White. ¡Viva el Doggie Diner!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dragonfly (pages 20-21)

The next poem in Dragonfly is a transition poem. The two previous poems focus on family in conjunction with pop culture. Starting with this poem we get a series of poems that deal with childhood. This poem focuses specifically on Asian American childhood in San Francisco in the '60s.

I've written about this in the blog before: last year, I posted a short story on this very topic titled "Manny's Climb"; when that story had been published in the book Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, it had appeared with a preface that explains what happened: during the '60s and '70s, teenagers who were neither white nor black had to choose one or the other of those identities in order to survive on the streets. That's the way it was in San Francisco, certainly, and I would hazard a guess that that happened in many locales.

What I saw happening with Asian American kids in particular — both girls and boys — is that they would oftentimes teeter-totter back and forth between passing as white and passing as black.

Jive Talk

Growing up, I thought
I was black.
For 2 or 3 years, anyway. Playing

the dozens, jive talk,
Smokey Robinson
and the Miracles.

Dancing the 4 corners,
A & I, Sophisticated
Cissy, Mother Popcorn.

Afternoons with Joe, Ronnie,
and Resting-His-Eyes Jackson
harmonizing with the Tempts:

"The Girl's All Right with Me,"
"Get Ready," "My Girl,"
"Ain't Too Proud to Beg."

At Grattan Playground, our gods
were the Big O
and Wilt the Stilt.

Soft steal like
Walt "Clyde" Frazier,
a Meadow Lark hook from half court.

Knit shirt-jackets like rainbows,
creased jeans, black and red
pimpsocks, gold dashikis.

Talking trash. Doing
Muhammad Ali and The James Brown.
Testifying, funkifying:

Page 20

Get down
                    with the get down!
                    Get down, brown.

                                           wild card
                              sure is you own.

                    Get by
                              with the get by!
          Get by, Sly.

                                                  Getting on, keeping on
                                                  for real.
                              But don't mean nothing.

                    Flaming funk
          be jiving junk
if you the signifying skunk.

Page 21

Here are a couple of images that will illustrate a bit of the fashion spirit of that time. On the left we see typical African American fashions from around 1970. This is how an Asian American teenager putting on blackness would have dressed. As did I during the time described in the poem.

On the right is an image of African musicians wearing the dashiki. Not gold as in my poem above but other bright colors . . . the man in the center sports a mainly red one while around him are white dashikis, orange, yellow, etc. From about 1968 on, people in the African American civil rights movement wore dashikis as an Afrocentric statement; this fashion filtered down to common folk, and Asian American youth who were, again, "putting on blackness" followed suit. Bad pun, sorry.

Because of the realities of my growing up during that time, I was fluent in Black English (again as a survival practice). A linguistic fluency that also came in very handy during my US Army service from 1972 to 1975. When I use this poem at readings, in fact, I perform the latter part of the poem, the italicized portion, in Black English.

There's also an interesting story connected to the closing part of this poem. I wrote this text as a freestanding poem in a beginning poetry writing class with the poet Belle Randall at Stanford University in 1971 or 1972. Then, in probably 1986 or thereabouts, when I was working on my MFA in poetry with Yusef Komunyakaa, I resurrected it, as something that really spoke to my childhood experience, and inserted it into this poem, so that the opening section (the romanized portion) serves as contextualization for the ending section. I sprinkled the latter around the page in order to differentiate it from the part in standard English and to give a sense of its performative quality.

Okay, that's all for today. I'd love to hear what you think of this poem or whatever; please comment below. Thanks. Ingat.

The image on the left is borrowed from the website No attribution of photographer there. I'll be glad to give credit or remove this image if the creator contacts me. If you click on the photo, you'll be taken to; this specific image is about 14 screenloads down that page.

The image on the right was created by Emilio Labrador, resides in, and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Dragonfly (pages 18-19)

Okay, so there was a two-year gap between the previous Dragonfly post and the one before that. And then from that last post to now, a nine-month gap. Has any project ever hung fire so much?

It's been so long, in fact, there may be readers who have never seen a Dragonfly post. To those friends, let me explain: I'm blogging my first poetry collection page by page, or rather, poem by poem with commentary on craft or the circumstances surrounding the composition of the poem, etc. At the bottom of each post, you'll see a little box at bottom right that will help you navigate to the initial Dragonfly post (from late 2008), the table of contents, and so on.

This next poem in the book is thematically related to the previous poem since both deal with gambling.

Uncle Ray Shoots Craps with Elvis

It was Christmas 1963, and my mother's youngest brother, Ray,
was hitting all the tables at Harrah's: blackjack, roulette, craps
and baccarat — the exotic Monte Carlo import into Vegas.
In a trés chic hotel room, stories above the glitter of games,
another man was suiting up in silver lamé and rhinestones — Elvis
Presley, ready for whatever — rock-n-roll's unruly King.

And so they met, two sovereigns, my uncle whose name means king
and the honey-throated emperor of the silver screen. Uncle Ray,
in a white shirt and gray sport coat, sat down across from Elvis
under the dusty yellow light wafting down on the green and red craps
table. The shooter, a platinum blonde who was new to the game,
giggled as she fondled the dice, peeking at Elvis the Pelvis through Vegas

showgirl lashes. Neither the blonde nor Elvis paid the vaguest
attention to my uncle. Elvis ordered glass after glass, first "The King
of Beers," then later Johnnie Walker, Southern Comfort. The game
went on: Platinum giggled and threw, giggled and threw. Uncle Ray
bet with the table, and Elvis bet against. In front of my uncle, a crop
of red and blue chips blossomed and grew. Again and again, Elvis

called for a new stack of chips. The table wavered in front of Elvis's
eyes: was he ready to wager his diamond ring, his sequined vest, his Vegas
Caddy, the keys to the city of Memphis, his entire tobacco and cotton crop
in Tennessee? Who was this little man who dared challenge the King?
Did Elvis squint into the smoky glare, trying to focus on Uncle Ray?
Maybe he looked just like a favorite servant, the grounds- and game-

keeper at the Tennessee farm: Juanito from Cuba, who raised game
cocks and racing greyhounds for the betting pleasure of Elvis
and his retinue. On the other side of the table, Uncle Ray
peered through his own lowered eyelashes at the King of Vegas
and saw a brash young man, cruelly handsome but no King.
Drunk as a skunk, he would later tell us kids. At that craps

Page 18

table, Elvis was just another foul-mouth holligan. "Crap"
was the gentlest cuss word he said that night. As the game
went on, I noticed a bulge under his coat. It was the king
of handguns, a Colt .45 — the more he lost, the more Elvis
stroked its pearl handle. Then he bet all his chips and the "Vegas
Equalizer," as he called the gun. I thought to myself,
This is it, Ray,

do or die. The dice flew. Elvis got up real shaky: he'd crapped
out: "Life's a game," he said. "Now you're King." "Just call me Ray,"
I told him. Then he and the blonde staggered out into the streets of Vegas.

Page 19

This is based on a true story. Though I've made up everything. My cousin Monica (Uncle Ray's daughter) once told me at a family gathering, "Hey, did I ever tell you how my dad shot craps with Elvis?" I said something like, "Nicky, don't tell me another thing. I want to write about it without knowing the details."

This poem may also be connected to my MFA professor David Wojahn's assignment to write a poem in which a family member meets a celebrity. I didn't write this until several years after I was David's student, but there it is. Some of you may know of that famous Wojahn assignment, which has been published here and there.

What else can I say? It's a sestina. Google that word or click on the word "sestina" in the labels below. I wrote a decent blog post on the sestina in March 2009.

Let's see . . . that picture of Elvis above is from a Sun Records promotional photo when he was 19. I tried to find an image of Presley that's not well known. I borrowed it from Wikipedia; click on it for more info. The picture's in the public domain.

There's a small anecdote connected to this poem for me. I was a visiting writer at the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, at UMass Boston during the '90s, and I performed this poem, among others, at a reading. During the Q&A, a well-known scholar and historian of the Vietnam war called me out for sexism, citing the portrayal of the character of the showgirl as evidence. I felt bad about that for quite a long while, but really, if one were to write from the point of view of a mass murderer, does that make one a mass murderer? The showgirl is, admittedly, a static, undeveloped character who is shown only as silly arm candy for Elvis. But her purpose in the poem, as an image, as a device, is to characterize Elvis's womanizing and to oppose his character to that of Uncle Ray. I'd love to hear some thoughts about this question, if you wouldn't mind posting a comment about it below.

Oh, one other thing, the phrase "cruelly handsome" above was originally "brutally handsome" in the book. I think, though, that I unconsciously lifted that from the Eagles. Hence the alteration.

Okay, that's all for now. Comment below, won't you? About anything, please. Thanks. Ingat.

Added 5/8/2012: Yesterday, I mentioned that the Wojahn assignment had been published. Here's the scoop: "The Night Aunt Dottie Caught Elvis's Handerchief When He Tossed It from the Stage of the Sands in Vegas," a poetry-writing exercise by David Wojahn, from The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. Lots of great exercises in this book . . . worth picking up.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Testing Erasure Poem Colors ... Help?

Friends, I'm doing a small experiment with colors using the same erasure poem as last time. Could you help by telling me what's working and what's not?

First, a little background. In the comments on the last post, Sandy Longhorn and I had a discussion about colors. She said, "I especially love that the erasure isn't complete and the other words not chosen sort of float in the background of the poem."

After saying something about the image being like a palimpsest, I said this: "You know, Sandy, it just occurred to me that if you pick the right colors — because cool colors recede and warm colors come forward, one could really go for what you said. So if the page background were bluish, for example, and the unerased words were red or yellow, you could really enhance and magnify that floating in the background effect. Hmm."

Anyway, that's why I'm experimenting with the colors. Let me start with the extracted text and source.

How to Build a Dinosaur

Merlin begins with powdered tin
and flashes the substance
into different elements,
sophisticated tools for
the amazing ability to keep
coming up with new shapes
and dinosaur tissues,
offering valuable evolution
in mastodon and mammoth bodies.
Source: How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever by Jack Horner and James Gorman (Dutton, 2009), pages 106-07.
—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

You can also compare these by clicking on one of the images. You'll be taken to a slightly larger version with a black background. Then click on the two thumbnails at the bottom, center, to switch back and forth between the two images.

In the blue one, does the unerased text look like it's popping out of the book and floating in front? And is the erased text receding into the pages? Still floating but farther back?

Or maybe there's no difference except for the colors? How is your emotional response colored (sorry for the bad pun) by the treatment of color in the two versions? How does this affect your own thinking about erased poems?

Please let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks. Ingat.

Added after the 10th comment below.

Friends, I didn't make myself clear. I'm very familiar with complementary colors, and I have a really good sense of color, artistically etc. I happen to prefer the tawny background for this poem because it feels more like an aged book. I also prefer having the connecting lines because I'm not sure all readers realize that the poem reads left-to-right and top-to-bottom, suggesting that the poem text already existed in the original text. That it's supposed to feel like a secret text, a coded ciphered text.

What I'm wondering about in this post is based on the optical illusion that cool colors seem to recede from the viewer and warm colors seem to come towards the reader. Look at the black box below. Do you see how the green and yellow seem to stand forward from the black, the white and red seem to be in the plane of the black, and the blue and violet seem behind the plane of the black? What I'm experimenting with is whether this visual effect can be exploited to have the erased text feel further away from the reader than the extracted text.

    text     text    text    text    text    text    

Perhaps the effect is not as evident without a black background. And perhaps it would work better if the poem text were green or red; that occurred to me but seemed to me to go against the illusion of the book looking like aged parchment.

Anyway, how does that affect the way you see the two versions? I'm not asking which is better. I'm not asking which is more artistic. I'm asking, in which version does the erased text seem to recede into the background? Or does it in either at all?

I'm only showing the blue one here hypothetically. The yellowish background with the blue circling and connecting is the one that's going to remain.

Thanks, everyone.

Friday, May 4, 2012

An Erasure Poem ... Finally!

Friends, sorry for the delay in completing an erasure poem from Wednesday's prompt. Anyway, here it is. Completely concocted in Photoshop after scanning in the two book pages. That's why there's a herky-jerky quality to the blue lines; I'm drawing them with a mouse while holding my index finger down. Obviously need more practice. (Click on the image to see a slightly larger version that's easier to read.)

How to Build a Dinosaur

Merlin begins with powdered tin
and flashes the substance
into different elements,
sophisticated tools for
the amazing ability to keep
coming up with new shapes
and dinosaur tissues,
offering valuable evolution
in mastodon and mammoth bodies.

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

I don't know that the poem makes a whole lot of conventional sense. I was trying for an alchemical feeling in it.

Anyway, I think of it as a practice piece: a rehearsal into creating the visual artifact, and also isolating the/a found text from the source. I do think the altered pages look pretty sweet. Don't you think so?

The source is How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever by Jack Horner and James Gorman (Dutton, 2009).

What do you think, friends? Please leave a comment below. Thanks! Ingat.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

POST - NaPoWriMo Prompt ... Erasure Poetry

Friends, are you feeling there's a "hole" in your artistic life today because for a month you were writing a poem a day? Fear not! Here's a prompt to get you through till bedtime. Try making an erasure poem.

Yesterday, I wrote a post that showed an erasure poem I "wrote" — or, perhaps more properly, "found" — based on a text by fiction writer Erin McReynolds (it's kind of a long story . . . go to yesterday's post for more details).

I also said in that post that I wasn't sure if the piece should be called an "erasure poem" or a "visual found poem" or an "altered-page poem." The name "erasure poem" just seemed to be so focused on removal as opposed to creation, while "altered-page poem" seemed so connected to the mixed-media art of altering books as objets d'art in themselves (see Tom Phillips's website for a glorious, brilliant example of an altered book, or "treated book," as Phillips calls it). The alternate "visual found poem" seemed most accurate but it's so blah. After some googling and researching, I've settled on "erasure poem" as the most useful term because it focuses on the process more than the product, and erasure as process is the exciting part of this poetic mode.

Okay, then, here are some examples of erasure poems. The top two are from my last NaPoWriMo post, written by my poem-a-day buddy Catherine Pritchard Childress and me using the same source text (an expansion of the McReynolds text . . . even more backstory in that post).

The bottom two are from the doyenne, the queen, the champ, of American erasure poets: the artist and writer carrieola or Carrie Arizona. The pseudonym carrieola is her moniker at the network deviantArt. She used the pseudonym Carrie Arizona in my feature of her erasure poems in the blog; I talk at some length in that feature about this piece, on the left, called "Beautiful Leech."

The piece on the right was featured in a May 2011 art show in Tucson. This piece started out much like the one on the left, an erasure poem altered from a book page, but was then altered or treated further as a collage for the art show.

There are many more beautiful erasure poems in carrieola's deviantArt gallery, such as the georgeous erasure poem titled "The Sea." Many more erasure poems can be seen in her gallery; here is the section of her gallery devoted to poetry (including more traditionally written poems).

So, where's the bleep-bleepin' prompt, you might be saying by now?

Here goes . . . create an erasure poem in the vein, in the mode, of carrieola. (Obviously, the poems above by Catherine and me are very derivative of carrieola's work.) Pick a source text (hints: find something that has interesting words, and pick a text that has a fair amount of leading, i.e., space between lines). In Catherine's and my examples above, you can see that because the lines are tighter together the visual rendition can feel cramped.

Wave Books has created a VERY cool found-poetry generator. This will save you from having to find your own source text, and how the generator works is a LOT of fun. The only thing I don't like about it is that in your finished erasure poem, the erased words and phrases are completely invisible. You also can't make cool visuals like carrieola's. What you could do, though, is use the generator to figure out what the poem will be, then go back and type out the original text and alter it visually. Making the visual artifact is just as much fun as altering the text.

Okay, that's it. Post your completed erasure poem here in a comment below or put it on your own site and leave that web address below. Have FUN!

Comments below, please? Ingat.

P.S. Thanks to j. i. kleinberg, blogger at chocolate is a verb, for telling me about Sue Boynton's excellent resources on found poetry. It's worth combing through this material for great links to all kinds of cool schtuff.

Also, The Found Poetry Review has a collection of prompts you might find helpful.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tidying Up After NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day

Friends, I've been going through all my NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day posts, cleaning up code, inserting a picture or two I had meant to put up but somehow neglected to, like a screencap from Chromapoesy for Day 15, stuff like that, and realized it would be a great idea to provide an index to all the blogs and sites that I featured or referenced during the month. The index would be mainly for my own use as I revisit places where I meant to read NaPoWriMo poems more closely, but of course it would be useful to all of you too. That index appears at the end of this post.

Before the index, though, I'd like to show you another visual found poem — or altered-page poem or erasure poem — I created in January. It's connected to the ones of Catherine and mine posted yesterday because it works with the Erin McReynolds text we've used for prompts before. (See yesterday's explanation.) The occasion for this particular piece was that I had assigned my poetry workshop class the same original exercise and when doing the homework along with the students, I made a visual found poem. Here's that piece. And thanks once more to Erin McReynolds.

Here's the poem text extracted from the paragraph above. That is, the circled words and phrases left over after erasure, concatenated and lineated.


his face in my lap I kiss.
I find the wound, the organs
removed in wild panic.
He blinks and grabs my hair,
whispering liters of blood.

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

And here's the index to sites and blogs cited during NaPoWriMo.

Poetic Asides (Robert Lee Brewer) • (Maureen Thorson) •

Circle the Block (Andrea Boltwood) •

chocolate is a verb (J.I. Kleinberg) •

Waving at Satellites (Clarice) •

No Vacation from Speculation (Jessica McHugh) •

Skylaar (Skylaar Amann) •

I Hate Poetry (Buddah Moskowitz) •

000 April (Aprille) •

Chromapoesy (Anna Montgomery) •

Whimsy Gizmo (De Jackson) •

Laurie Kolp Poetry (Laurie Kolp) •

Garage Poet (Carrie Moniz) •

Fuck it. Cut 'em up. (Anne Reynolds) •

I'm Not A Verse (Tilly) •

Moon Junkee (Leslie LaChance) •

Through the Eyes of Meena Rose

Marilyn Cavicchia, Editor and Poet

Jennifer Bullis: Poetry at the Intersection of Mythology and Hiking

MiskMask: Alphabet Soup de Jour (Misky) •

Griffin Lit Sixth Graders (Danielle Filas) •

Susan's Poetry (Susan L. Chast) •

A Poem a Day (Megan Hippler) •

Maureen Thorson

The Found Poetry Review

The Found Poetry Project

Hope you enjoyed National Poetry Month and that the blog contributed to that enjoyment. I also hope that, if you visit the blogs and sites noted above, you enjoy their NaPoWriMo poems even more. Comment below, please? Thanks. Ingat.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Day 30 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day

Okay, everyone, we made it! Woot woot! Happy Last Day of National Poetry Month.

The final prompts of National Poetry Month 2012 . . . Robert Lee Brewer recommends "a fade away poem"; Maureen Thorson suggests a poem with several statements (at least three) beginning "I remember"; and Andrea Boltwood says: "Write a new-perspective poem. Take something big and make it small, take something ugly and make it pretty, take something happy and make it sad — any new perspective will do."

Thanks to all three of you for providing prompts all month. Many, MANY poems got written across the world because of your suggestions. Brava and bravo!

Below is an "I remember" poem á là Maureen. Not remembrances from everyday life, however, but recollections from the myriad lives we spend behind our closed eyelids.

I Remember Dreams

I remember dreams, like old friends. Not old friends exactly but ones who come around again and again. Often firing up old, now familiar, fears from childhood to the present.

I remember a dream. Mama and Papa and I are strolling through a park. It's green and well-cared for. The lawns are bordered by flower beds: red, yellow, white blossoms. There are large metal statues of human figures, probably bronze, green that's almost black, with a patina that roughens their exteriors. It is quiet. Then the statues begin to move, creakily and with jerky sidewise movements. Papa and Mama don't notice. The statues descend from their stone pedestals. They move slowly towards us. I tell my parents that we must run, but they laugh and converse, ignoring me. I run and leave them. The statues move quicker, close in.

I remember a dream. I'm probably twelve or thirteen. I'm with one of my friends; who it is changes from one time to the next. Sometimes it's Jimmy or Joe; other times it's Ronny or Mike. We wield toy machine guns with olive drab bandoliers. We come upon a submarine, moored to the earth, half submerged in dark gray water. We board the craft, descend from the conning tower into a control room. There are twinkly colored lights in banks and arrays on the bulkheads. The control room is empty. Somehow my friend and I realize there's a war, and it's up to us to win the day. Absolutely crucial in order to save not only the country but our friends and families. But none of the controls work. I climb up to the top of the conning tower, poke my head and shoulder up through the hatch. The submarine is in a small lake, perhaps a pond. We are completely surrounded by land.

I remember a dream. I'm in college. I live in a dorm. It's gigantic with banks of elevators and long hallways. There are passageways to an equally gigantic mall, with stores displaying all sorts of colorful products though I can never quite see what they are. Just that it's all glitzy and space-opera like. Somewhat like the Jetsons but with a lot more gloss and dazzle, shimmer and coruscation. Detail upon detail pack all surfaces in all directions, like a Steven Spielberg movie gone wild and renegade, out of any conceivable control. I'm lost. I can't find my way back to the dorm. There are hordes of people but I don't know anyone. In fact, they don't seem to notice me. I just wander and wander, as if in an episode of Twilight Zone. Some nights I find my way back to the college campus but not the dorm and am lost among institution-like buildings. Whenever I do get back to the dorm, I get trapped on elevators or can't negotiate the Byzantine elevator system. Other nights, I'm still at the mall though it's as large as a city, and I take monorail trains that get me more and more lost.

I remember a dream. Not one I've had but one I'd like to have. It's a dream like Mary Ann has told me that she has often. It's in a rural landscape. I'm on a farm but not one I've ever been to in real life. It's like a farm in a reading primer. Like Dick and Jane would visit with their dog Spot. There's no one around. There are rail fences, lots of greenery. Planted acres in the distance. Haystacks. Chickens. Other livestock I can't ever see or pinpoint but I hear them nearby. I stand with my arms down by my side, hands against my thighs. I lean forward, point my chin toward a fluffy cloud up in beautiful blue sky, and I start to lift off the earth. I soar and pivot in air.

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

That's really more like a notebook freewrite than a completed poem. This is a meditation I've wanted to commit to paper for a long time. It's because of being in the daily poem-writing mode that is NaPoWriMo that I've finally been able to get this down. It will surely go through many versions before it's done. At the moment, I still have no idea where it will go. Or what it's about.

To move to the next item on today's agenda, let me give you some background on how Catherine and I know each other. On May 28 of last year, I wrote in the blog about an in-class poetry-writing exercise that had worked particularly well in my Beginning Poetry Writing class. I posted the instructions for the exercise as well as some examples of what my students and I had written during a fifteen-minute period. This exercise was based on borrowing words from a single paragraph from the story "VIVA!" by Erin McReynolds, which appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of the North American Review, where I serve as Editor.

In the comments to that blog post, someone I didn't know responded with this: "I am a graduate student in literature and creative writing. I have been looking for things to pull me out of my comfort zone, so to speak. This is a great exercise. Although I wouldn't hold my effort up against the ones posted above, I thought I would share what your exact exercise and 10 or fifteen minutes yielded for me." The poem she shared from having tried my exercise was very good.

That graduate student was Catherine Pritchard Childress from East Tennessee State University. We came to be facebook friends and in December 2011, I posted a reprise of the writing exercise with several more poems Catherine had written from that same exercise. Eventually, I accepted a later version of one of these poems to publish in the North American Review.

Thinking about doing NaPoWriMo this year, I realized that I had never finished it before because I wasn't accountable to anyone besides myself; so easy to say, "oh well, can't do it." Since I have gained great admiration for Catherine's poetry, I asked her to do the Poem-a-Day Challenge with me. We would keep each other honest and provide motivation to get a poem done each day. As you have seen if you've been keeping up with our work this month, it's been a marvelous buddy system for us.

Anyway, I suggested to Catherine that we take the entire column from Erin McReynolds's story from which the original exercise was mined and see if we could each discover or uncover a visual found poem in it, what people also call an altered-page poem or an erasure poem. Below are our resulting poems.

These poems might easily fit under Andrea's prompt above to find a "new perspective." In this case, this would refer to a new perspective on text that both of us had worked with before. A lot of fun, actually. Especially the making of the visual artifact.

Our featured blog today is The Found Poetry Review. Not actually a NaPoWriMo site though FPR did run a National Poetry Month found-poetry program throughout the US, called The Found Poetry Project, in which "found poetry kits" were seeded in many locations across the country to teach people about found poetry and encourage them to find found poems and submit them to be published on the project's website. Fun. Take a look at the found poems that have been coming in from people who are probably not usually connected to poetry.

Well, friends. That's it for this year's NaPoWriMo and Poem-a-Day Challenge. It's been a tremendous lot of fun. First time I've ever made it all the way through (in the past, I would consider myself lucky if I finished with more than three or four poems); sincerest thanks to Catherine Pritchard Childress for being my writing NaPoWriMo buddy and being someone I would be accountable to if I didn't write a poem a day. I enjoyed your poems very much, especially the ones spoken by and about women from the Bible. Good luck with your poems; you and they will go far.

I hope you enjoyed reading poems here during National Poetry Month. I also hope you will continue to read poems all year. And then write a poem a day next April, 2013. Please leave a comment below, okay? Thanks. Ingat.

POEM-A-DAY 2012 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 29 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day

Hello, everyone. It's the eve of the last day of National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo and the Poem-a-Day challenge. Ain't it grand?

Okay, penultimate prompts! Maureen Thorson suggests a clerihew or a double dactyl. Andrea Boltwood says, lune! — either the Collom or Kelly types. Robert Lee Brewer tells us: "Take a favorite line or image from an earlier poem this month and re-work it into a new poem." That's a marvelous idea, Robert; I might not do that today but I'll certainly try it later.

I recently wrote clerihews for an office reception for a colleague who's stepping down from his current position, so I was primed for Maureen's prompt. Here are a couple of new clerihews on Presidential politics.

Two Clerihews

President Barack Obama . . .
Bet you thought I would rhyme with yo mama,
But there's also hosanna and flora or fauna,
There are more rhymes with Romney — don't wanna.

Governor Willard "Mitt" Romney
Would give all of us imsomni—
If Mitt became President or even just veep,
None of us would ever get any sleep.

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

I also started to work on a clerihew that rhymed Gingrich with getting rich; I envisioned third and fourth lines that would rhyme getting paid with getting lei'd but decided maybe it would insult the state of Hawai'i, and so I abandoned it.

Catherine wrote clerihews on Presidential politics as well. When she sent them to me, she wrote they were "really fun and really pathetic." But that's the point with clerihews: they should be over the top, irreverent, slapstick, even silly. All in good fun, right?

Two Clerihews

Senator Rick Santorum
says we aren't allowed to abort 'em
but we can't take pills to prevent 'em
So I guess we will all be called Mum.

Secretary of State Hill Clinton
I sure wish you won, but you didn't
Here's hoping that twenty-sixteen
will bring the US its first queen.

—Draft by Catherine Pritchard Childress     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

Our featured NaPoWriMo site today is where the poet has been posting her NaPoWriMo poems, (How many times can I say "NaPoWriMo" in one sentence?) When you get to her homepage, click on "Blog" near bottom right.

Perhaps I should have featured her website earlier since her poem-a-day pieces go "poof" after 24 hours. The one for Day 29 is up right now; click above and look at it — remember, select "blog." Here today, gone tomorrow!

Well, that's it for today. And almost it for National Poetry Month 2012. Just one glorious day left. See you at the "Last Day" festivities, then? Please write a comment below. Thanks! Ingat.

POEM-A-DAY 2012 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day 28 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day

Twenty-seven poems done. (Actually, since I doubled up one day, twenty-eight.) How did the month go by so quickly?

Well, poem-a-day and NaPoWriMo (the challenges) wait for no one, so, prompts! Maureen @ "poem of space" / Robert @ Poetic Asides: "problem poem" / Andrea @ Circle the Block: "favorite place" poem. Ready, set, go!

Here's what Catherine wrote when she emailed me her piece for today: Here's a "poem" about a space — a garden. Well, Catherine, no need for quote marks around the p-word. This is a real poem. And, it seems, about a "favorite place." So you've mixed up two prompts!

Jackson Square After Beignets

Am I the flaming azalea, singing
In the garden by the crosswalk
Sweetness still on my lips?

—Draft by Catherine Pritchard Childress     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

My poem today — linked hay(na)ku — mixes Maureen's and Robert's prompts: "space" and "problem." Andrea's prompt is in the mix too but in terms of a "favorite activity" more than a "favorite place." Also, there is a bit of back story below the poem.

Miracle Woman

Blue sky
all around me.

Hurricane wind.
Chute wouldn't pop.

opened but
failed. Oh shit.

the ground
at 80 mph.

out, dead.
But not dead.

Coma two weeks.
Left the

on my own
two feet.

Call me Ishmael.
Call me

Those fire ants
were my

Still skydiving. Wanna
come join

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

Here's the promised back story, incredible but true . . .
Charlotte, North Carolina: In September of 1999, Joan Murray's main parachute failed during a jump from 14,500 feet. Her reserve opened at around 700 feet, but then deflated. She landed in a mound of fire ants, whose stinging may have helped keep her heart beating. In a coma for two weeks, she was well enough to head home six weeks later. She returned to jumping in July of 2001.     (Unlucky Skydivers, The Free Fall Research Page)
May we all be so lucky. Live long and prosper, Joan Murray.

Our featured NaPoWriMo blog today was created specifically for this season: A Poem a Day with the motto "Rejecting Perfectionism and Cultivating Awareness." In a self-interview on the first of April, the blog's proprietor Megan Hippler said she is rejecting perfectionism because her "goal is not to publish perfect poems every time, but rather to create something and continue to practice." And why cultivate awareness? Because "the best poems start with honesty and grow from that kernel of truth into powerful works."

Megan's poems are sharp, precisely observed, and to the point, with beautiful, precisely rendered imagery. Look for example at "The Burrup Flares" on Day 21: a small seven-liner that makes a trenchant anti-pollution comment. You'll see what I mean if you google pics of "Burrup flares," for example this Getty image. Excellent work, Megan. Thanks for your keen vision and voice.

Okay, friends, two NaPoWriMo days to go. I hope you'll leave a comment below. Let's talk. Ingat.

POEM-A-DAY 2012 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Friday, April 27, 2012

Day 27 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day

Day 33 — 3·3·3 — THREE CUBED. Prompts — Maureen Thorson: "nursery rhyme or clapping rhyme" — Robert Lee Brewer: "The Trouble Is ________" as a title — Andrea Boltwood: pantoum. Too bad each of them didn't give three prompts; then I could have said "THREE POETS CUBED."

Today, I'm taking on Andrea's suggestion of a pantoum. But first, some back story. Twenty days ago, I posted a poem titled "Black Encounter on the Eve of Easter" which deals with aswang, those Philippine monsters who have so many avatars: vampire, ghoul, shapeshifter, and more. Those of you familiar with my aswang work (both in poems and in illustration) know that my favorite is the manananggal, a woman who breaks herself apart at the waist and whose top half then grows wings to fly. The following poem is a response to that earlier NaPoWriMo poem . . . you might want to take a look at that one before reading this. In the comments to that Day 7 post, I had bantered with readers about the possibility this might be a love story in the offing, and perhaps today's poem below may be the start of that story. We'll see.

How the Aswang met Jesús on the Eve of Easter
— in Cutud Village, north of Manila, 1921
(a reply to "Black Encounter on the Eve of Easter")
So there's Jesús de los Santos in his bedroom, sleeping.
I've been watching Jesús from a distance for many days,
so handsome, his black hair glowing in the sunlight
when I would see him at market selling his vegetables.

I've been watching Jesús from a distance for many days,
and tonight I decided I would visit him, see him at home,
and not just when he's at market selling his vegetables.
So I split my body, breaking in half as usual at the waist,

since tonight I decided I would visit him, see him at home.
I stood in my bedroom, slowly unfurling wet black wings
as I split my body, ripping in half painfully at the waist.
Then I looked towards the wide beautiful moon, so free

after long minutes in my room, unfurling my wet wings.
I launched myself into night air and headed into the sky,
then flew towards Jesús’s house, so beautiful, so free.
The village was lovely, candle lamps glowing in windows.

I turned down toward the earth, falling out of the sky
and alighted gently, so gently, on his woven thatch roof.
His house was lovely, a lamp gleaming in his window.
I took care not to upset even the flame as I entered

and floated gently, so gently, up near the woven roof.
Now I watch Jesús, his sweat glistening as he lies in bed.
I took care not to awaken or disturb him as I entered,
but now his eyes open, dark brown irises glowing.

I watch Jesús, keeping very still, as he stirs in bed.
I stay as still as I can, my wings softly fluttering.
His eyes are open and staring, brown irises growing.
And then I see he has spotted me. He can see me.

I stay as still as I can, slow my wings' fluttering.
From the way Jesús's brows knit, his arms tensed,
I know he has definitely spotted me. Can he see me
trying to blend into dark ceiling, blend into black?

Then his brows grow more black, his arms tensed
with spreading darkening fur, his teeth growing long.
I try to hide in the ceiling. His body grows black
and blacker — his body distorts into a giant wolf

with black fur, feet and hands clawed, his fangs long.
And then I realize the truth: we're both aswang!
We both start to laugh and laugh, this huge wolf
and I. Waving blithely to him, I turn to fly away.

This truth will open up our lives: we're both aswang.
He's so handsome, black fur glowing in the moonlight.
Knowing I will see him again, I turn to fly away.
And there's my Jesús, head up to the sky, howling.

—Draft by Vince Gotera     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the pantoum, you might consult my article on pantoum form and history in the book An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art, edited by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes (Michigan, 2002). This is available at Google Books, but my article (page 254) is not displayed, alas.

No poem from Catherine yet. I'll post her poem for Day 27 when it's ready.

Our featured poem-a-day blog today is Susan's Poetry where Susan L. Chast has been very faithfully producing more than a poem a day during the month. This April is a crossroads for Susan who very recently retired and whose NaPoWriMo poems are the start of a new life in art and performance. I particularly like Susan's "Nursery Medley" for today: a light-hearted "zombies and vampires" reboot of classic nursery rhymes. Take a peek . . . you'll be charmed.

Okay, three days to go, friends. Please leave a comment below. Also, do go back a day to see the sixth-graders' NaPoWriMo site I featured yesterday. Ingat.

Added 4/30/12: Everyone, here's Catherine's poem for Day 27. She'd like the sixth graders of Griffin Lit to know that she was inspired by them and their Day 30 prompt to imitate George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" poem to write this one. Wonderful, Catherine! And great for you, Griffin Lit kids, you inspired another poet!

Where I’m From
— after George Ella Lyon
I am from the red dirt seat of cut-off jeans,
from Hostess Ham on weeknights
always served with quarts of green beans,
mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese.

I am from an out of plumb, white house,
birthplace of my daddy and his,
where falling rain on rusted tin
serenaded my crowded sleep.

I am from a creek full of salamanders,
almost climbed maple tree, sweet peas
picked while I dawdled to church,
wild violets gathered in tiny bunches.

I'm from guilt trips and tenacity,
from Lela's eyes and Philo's brains,
Pritchards I didn't meet.
I'm from old money and clogged arteries,

from don't slay the King's English,
hair like a stump full of Grandaddy's,
Hellfire and brimstone, Walking through
the valley of the shadow of death.

I am from The Queen City and Curtis's Creek,
egg sandwiches and thickened potatoes,
from my grandfather's crooked pinky
I tried to straighten and my father's lazy eye.

I am from the empty pages
of a third child's baby book,
hidden pictures of kinfolk in caskets,
from the milk table and milk glass
that survived the faces in page after page
of my black and white reflection.

—Draft by Catherine Pritchard Childress     [do not copy or quote ... thanks]

POEM-A-DAY 2012 • Pick a day in April: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

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